There are a lot of names for a simple raid encounter in WoW: tank and spank, churn and burn, rush down, the Raid Finder. In a rogue's perfect world, every raid boss we face would simply be Patchwerk (or two Patchwerks, if you play combat). It's our prerogative to deal the maximum possible damage, and we perform at our best when we can tunnel-vision and focus solely on managing our own energy, abilities, and cooldowns.
In spite of our preferences, bosses in WoW are rarely that simple. No two bosses are exactly alike, and even as we see the developers reusing ideas or abilities, each new fight is different from the last. One of the most common mechanics we deal with in a raid encounter is the addition of extra enemies, or adds. Any time a rogue switches targets, they lose some of their overall damage output. Redirect and Sprint are our two tools to minimize any lost damage, and yet they're woefully underutilized.
Figuring out the why
Swapping targets affects each type of rogue differently. All rogues suffer a damage loss on new targets while waiting for Deadly Poison to hit five stacks to activate its secondary effect. Assassination rogues are especially affected by this, as poisons make up a large portion of their damage. To make matters worse, Envenom is also weakened until DP reaches five stacks. Combat rogues lose their Bandit's Guile stack when picking a new target, while subtlety rogues are crippled until both the Hemorrhage and Rupture debuffs have been applied.
Moving to a new target also causes a rogue to lose out on possible damage. Every second that we're out of melee range of our target is a pure second of lost DPS. Minimizing the amount of time that we're out of melee range is crucial if we want to compete against ranged DPS classes that don't have to move. Melee classes are inherently worse at swapping to distant targets, but that doesn't stop us from being assigned to take down the oozes on Yor'sahj or to swap to the Twilight Sappers on the gunship.
Redirect is our most underrated ability
While Gouge is my favorite ability that isn't on most rogues' action bars, Redirect is a very close second. Due to its relatively long cooldown and near uselessness while leveling, many rogues never got into the habit of using Redirect. If you want to use it effectively, you also need to bind it to an easily available key, which are rarely available for rogues. Even with its weaknesses, Redirect is our best option for improving our swapping performance.
Each rogue spec will want to use Redirect differently. Subtlety and assassination rogues are likely to want to transfer their existing combo points to a new target, allowing them to quickly apply Rupture. With Rupture activating Venomous Wounds and Sanguinary Vein early, the dagger-wielding rogue specs can lower their ramp-up time on a new target. Assassination rogues would rather dump any remaining combo points into a dying add via Rupture rather than swap those combo points back to a boss due to the energy return from Venomous Wounds.
Combat rogues can choose when to activate Redirect based on the situation. We can Redirect when switching off of the boss to bring our Bandit's Guile stack with us, allowing us to burn down the new target quickly. We can also wait until the new target is dead and then use Redirect to swap that Bandit's Guile stack back to the boss. If you're currently at a low level of Bandit's Guile on the boss, you're probably better off just saving Redirect for the inevitable swap back, which will result in more damage dealt to the boss.
Due to Restless Blades, combat rogues can use Redirect pretty often. If it's possible for the new adds to be located near our current target, then we can also simply pop Blade Flurry and not swap targets at all. For example, many combat rogues will just activate Blade Flurry during the black ooze phases of Yor'sahj and continue attacking the boss while cleaving the smaller, nonthreatening adds. Assassination rogues have also been known to use an Envenom right before swapping to a new enemy to increase their poison application rate.
Sprint and Shadowstep close the gap
Without looking, do you know the cooldown on Sprint? For assassination and subtlety rogues, it's a mere 60 seconds. You can seriously use Sprint five or six times on an average raid encounter. Combat rogues see an even shorter Sprint cooldown via Restless Blades, allowing them to be incredibly mobile in spite of missing Quickening in their talent tree.
Dragon Soul doesn't require rogues to move very often, which means that Sprint is nearly always up for swapping targets. On a fight like Yor'sahj, where we're swapping to oozes regularly, Sprint is up for every single ooze that spawns. Mages have a mantra: If you're moving, you should be spamming instant-casts. Rogues need to adopt a similar mentality of popping Sprint every single time we're leaving the boss' side.
Subtlety rogues (along with every rogue in Mists of Pandaria) have access to Shadowstep, which adds another method of moving around quickly. Between Shadowstep and Sprint, a subtlety rogue should have nearly 100% uptime on a target. Rogues with a specialization in engineering will also have access to the Nitro Boost tinker, which is yet another movement speed cooldown. The purest way to increase your DPS is to increase your uptime, and minimizing the damage loss from moving to an add is a great way to accomplish this.
My challenge for you this week is to think of how many times you used Redirect and Sprint in Dragon Soul last week, and then try to increase that count this week. Your DPS will go up if you're swapping targets more efficiently, and we need every angle we can get to beat the ranged classes' damage numbers.
Sneak in every Wednesday for our Molten Front ganking guide, a deep-dive into the world of playing a subtlety rogue -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to the latest rogue gear.